ICASA 2008: Addressing the vulnerability of young women and girls to HIV in southern Africa
03 December 2008
On the opening day of ICASA 2008, a new regional report is launched by UNAIDS Executive Director Dr Peter Piot that looks at the vulnerability of women and girls in Southern Africa to HIV.
Almost two-thirds of all young people with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa where about 75% of all infections among young people aged 15 to 24 years are among young women.
Responding to the need to understand why young women and girls living in countries in this region are so vulnerable to HIV infection, UNAIDS and the Reproductive Health and HIV Research Unit of the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa convened an expert technical meeting in June 2008.
The meeting agreed four specific sets of actions at community and country levels that are grounded in national strategies and are context specific. The four key actions are:
- Mobilize communities for HIV prevention, with strong male involvement, to design relevant strategies and messages about the causes, consequences of and solutions to young women and girls’ vulnerability
- Expand access to high quality, well-integrated essential sexual and reproductive health and prevention services, while mobilising demand for and use of them.
- Develop and ensure adequate technical and financial resources for implementation of national strategies that address the structural drivers of vulnerability.
- Strengthen country capacities for epidemiological and behavioural surveillance, priority research, and monitoring coverage and impact of prevention responses to generate information to improve decision-making.
Participants at the meeting included regional researchers; representatives of national AIDS councils, government departments and the Southern African Development Community; and members of the eastern and southern Africa United Nations Regional AIDS Team. Participants were selected for representation across high-level policy, social and scientific research and programming expertise related to women, girls and HIV, from all countries of southern Africa.
Andy Seale, Senior Regional Adviser for Advocacy and Communications with UNAIDS Regional Support team for Eastern and Southern Africa, said: “A major acceleration in social mobilization, service scale-up, increased resources and better surveillance is needed to successfully address the vulnerabilities explored at the meeting. Actions are needed at all levels from the state level to actions at community, family and individual level.”
The outcomes of that meeting are reflected in a new publication launched by UNAIDS in Eastern and Southern Africa on 1 December 2008 that outlines the experts’ conclusions, recommendations and needed sets of action.
“UNAIDS Technical Meeting on Young Women in HIV Hyper-endemic countries of Southern Africa” also includes a number of the background technical papers which were commissioned for the meeting.
Southern Africa context explored
The papers explore some of the factors that are driving the current epidemic in southern Africa. These include the practice of age disparate and intergenerational sex; biological vulnerability of young women; economic empowerment; education and gender-based violence. A final paper examines the complex interaction between environmental factors and individual choices, behaviours and community norms.
Improved analyses of these factors will enable appropriate and evidence-informed responses to these specific challenges that increase vulnerability of young women and girls in the region.
Meeting participants called for a social movement to address the drivers that contribute to the risk of HIV infection in the region. Addressing human rights violations, harmful social norms, weak community and leadership capacities are seen as some of the fundamental steps to tackle the vulnerability of young women and girls to HIV in southern Africa.